Being a parent can be challenging, and nothing will get you off track quicker than a sick, cranky kid. As a family doctor and a father of two, I have found that prioritizing physical, mental and emotional health will go a long way toward promoting a healthy, happy life for your child and the whole family.
Below are some helpful tips and reminders that we can all use to help ensure a successful school year.
Teach proper hygiene: Encourage your children to wash their hands with soap and warm water after using the bathroom and before eating or touching their face. Send them to school with a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use on the go. Good hand hygiene will help to prevent illnesses ranging from diarrhoea to the common cold to the flu. Adults should follow these hand hygiene best practices too.
Stay hydrated: Send your child to school with a reusable water bottle and encourage him or her to refill it throughout the day. Adults should do the same. Staying hydrated helps you think more clearly and have more energy. Stick to plain water and skip sugary or artificially sweetened beverages.
Pack healthy lunches and snacks: Healthy meals are essential whether you’re an adult or a kid. Try to eat as few processed foods as possible and incorporate whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats into your family’s meals.
Get moving: To stay healthy year-round, you and your kids need physical activity. Go for family walks after dinner, plan a weekend hike, play basketball in the driveway, go swimming or have a dance party in the kitchen. Regular exercise will improve your energy, mood and mindset.
Limit screen time: Using electronic devices before bed can disrupt your child’s sleep, so turn off the television, tablet and phone at least an hour before bed. Instead, read a book or magazine, talk, work on a puzzle, or write in a journal.
Prioritize sleep: Kids need eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, while adults need seven to nine hours. For better sleep, avoid hot baths or showers, digital devices, exercise, heavy meals, sugar and caffeine before bedtime.
Stick to a regular bedtime and wake-up time, even on the weekends. If your child has been staying up later this summer, start incorporating earlier bedtimes and wake-up times for a few weeks before school starts to ease the transition.
Share more family meals: Regular family dinners give your family a chance to slow down, reconnect, share wins and challenges of the day, and savour your food. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, children who had family meals at least three times per week were healthier than those who didn’t.
Keep the conversation open: Take time to talk with your children and get to know their likes, dislikes, learning preferences, favourite subjects in school, friends, strengths, challenges and anything else going on their lives. You don’t have to be a perfect parent – showing you care and are there for them is what’s most important.
Make time for fun: Too much stress from school and work can wear down the whole family. Encourage your children to have playdates with other kids. Schedule in time to see your own friends and loved ones. Enjoy fun activities together as a family and take time to relax each week.
Watch for signs of bullying: It is reported that only 17 per cent of kids seek help when they are being bullied. Early signs of bullying include behavioural changes, academic issues, depression, anxiety and self-harm. If you notice these signs in your child, start a conversation.
Schedule an annual doctor’s check-up visit: Like a yearly physical for adults, an annual doctor’s visit for your child allows you and your child to establish a relationship with a health care provider, ensure your child’s growth is on track, and discuss prevention, immunizations, and other health concerns. If your child needs a pre-participation sports physical, now is the time to schedule it. While you’re at it, schedule your annual physical too.
Address poor vision: If your child squints, holds devices too closely, has headaches, isn’t keeping up in school or complains about vision problems, schedule an eye exam. Vision problems can affect a child’s learning ability. If your child already has glasses or contacts, schedule yearly exams to check for vision changes.
Brush up on dental health: Schedule your and your kids’ twice-yearly dental cleanings. The whole family should brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss at night.
Make sure vaccinations are up to date: During your child’s yearly doctor’s visit, ask the health care provider if your child’s vaccinations are up to date.